Reviews 2004

Woodman Folk Club - Reviews

Malcom Jeffrey 11/06/04

I’ve seen Cloudstreet doing spots at several Woodman singers’ nights, and been frankly impressed by this Australian duo’s humour, intelligence, and sheer well-rehearsed tightness and quality of their performances. Consequently, tonight’s date has been in my organiser for months, and Bob
and I set off earlyish to get a good seat : we reach the Woodman as the heavens open and it begins to rain heavily, and scurry inside for beer, chats with the regular club members, and to say ‘hi’ to Nicole and John and wish them a good gig. Cloudstreet have brought a selection of CDs with
them, and Bob and I have a quick shuftie at what’s available : me because I’ve come intending to buy some of their music, and Bob to decide which CD to choose when he inevitably wins the raffle’

Ian gets the night under way with a spot from Trev and Medium Paul, the half of Nothing To Prove which isn’t on holiday. They open with one of Paul’s entitled ‘Antes’, possibly so-called as Paul’s Better Half is a Latin lady, and follow it up with a nicely performed banjo tune during which Trev will
call out ‘theme !’, ‘verse !’ etc off mike, as they only learned it yesterday. Their well-executed spot finishes with ‘I Will Do’, another of Paul’s in the same vein as ‘Take This Job And Shove It’, and as Paul is a teacher, shirley the unofficial anthem of UK teachers everywhere nowadays’ Following our appreciation for Trev and Paul, Ian’s band co-members Barry and Corinne take the stage for the second spot : I am pleased to see Corinne has her classical guitar at the ready, though a tad concerned on hearing Barry tell us he’s got a bad throat this week. Was there cause for worry ‘
Pah ! Starting off with a sensitive ‘You Decide, My Love’, it’s clear that Barry’s voice is entirely up to standard, and their second number, ‘I Can’t  See Tonight’, is simply beautifully sung : while Corinne, as ever proficient and tender, musically proved herself once again the unproclaimed heroine of
her band. Sadly, it was then a case of ‘from the sublime to ridiculous’ as your humble correspondent was summoned to the stage to ‘follow that’ ! One can only hope that that audience felt that some kind of standard was upheld on being regaled by my renditions of Jasper Carrott’s ‘Bastity Chelt’,
Cosmotheka’s ‘Harry, Harry, Harry, Harry’, and Jake Thackray’s clothespeg-tastic ‘It Was Only A Gypsy’’

.....And then it’s the part of the evening I’ve been looking forward to - Cloudstreet taking in ‘The Woodman’ as part of their 2004 UK tour folks ! Nicole and John have been in Britain since the end of last year, embarked on a thorough schedule of folk club gigs, sessions and festival appearances,
and have been successfully delighting audiences wherever they appear. Although Nicole is a fine and talented flute and whistle player, and John plays nimble, solid rhythm guitar which frequently sounds open-tuned when it isn’t, for me their forte is their dual harmonies, and it’s to this strength
they play with their opening unaccompanied number, ‘Diggins-Oh’. It’s an Australian Gold Rush song, sung in modal harmony, and described by themselves as a traditional Australian ‘gardening song’’ and it’s a well-rehearsed, precise piece of harmony singing which has the audience
joining in with its shortest of refrains. Visually, Nicole is a slender lady singer wearing a dapper waistcoat, curly-toed jester boots and a clear expression of enjoyment in her singing, with a smile which can vary from innocence to very very cheeky indeed : while John is a more compact,
flamboyant entertainer, conducting his own singing like a cross between Pavarotti and Joe Cocker, a jester in his own right like an Aussie Timothy Claypole (if you remember ‘Rentaghost’, of course.).

Having warmed the Woodman audience up nicely and evoked some warm applause, Cloudstreet tell us a musical tale about a narrowboat called ‘Violet Sarah’, owned by some friends of theirs in Stratford, and which features John on guitar and Nicole on flute : a jaunty, infectious song with subtle time changes and a jolly chorus the singing Woodman audience joins in with heartily, somehow even avoiding being caught out by a dead stop in the last refrain ! ‘Lady Maisry’ is next, one of the dozens of Child ballads concerning that Lady but specifically warning of the dangers of courtship and childbirth, followed by a Cloudstreet favourite from the Woodman singers ‘ nights, ‘The Shape Of Things’, an unaccompanied song about ‘betrayal, revenge and geometry’, and a masterclass of performance timing which is enthusiastically received by the audience. This is followed by a second
Child ballad, the charming ‘Two Sisters’, in which we are all educated as to the true employment of a beaver hat’ and then the first half is brought to a crescendo by Cloudstreet’s genuinely amazing performance of ‘King Willy’, a further Child ballad and made famous by Martin Carthy to boot. I won’t
spoil it by telling you how they achieve it - you’ll have to buy their CD or go and see them - but believe me, their arrangement is an absolute triumph, the only other possible way to perform the song and thus the only other definitive version of ‘Willie’s Lady’ ever : judging from the explosion of applause following the song, the Woodman thought so too !

After the half-time break, and a warm-up solo number from Medium Paul, who as a native of the North East, asserted his moral right to tell us the awful story of ‘The Lambton Worm’, there was a surprise rupturing of the space-time continuum when Bob failed to win the raffle’ Luckily, however,
quantum stability was swiftly restored and Cloudstreet are welcomed back on stage, to begin with an exquisitely arranged acappella rendition of ‘The Briar And The Rose’, which is joined with traditional harmonising and gusto by the Woodman attendees. Cloudstreet have manifestly put a frightening
amount of time into rehearsing their singing - they’re beautifully in tune, synchronised to an almost Cosmotheka-esque degree and even their respective vocal qualities complement each other. Following this, we’re entertained by an everyday anecdote of Australian life coping with snakes, all of which is a preamble to an optimistic and amusing solo song by John, called ‘Out On The Highway’ and sung to the tune of a certain Sinatra hit, and which is purely included in the set as an advert for selling the Cloudstreet tour van when they go home ! Next up is ‘The Blacktown Jig’, featuring tight and inventive flute-playing from Nicole and ably underpinned by John’s guitarwork, and then we’re treated to another of our favourites from their singers’ night appearances, ‘Muckle John’, an ode to the last Court Jester which features some excellent and tightly executed time changes and speeding

Another opportunity for a good sing is presented to us now as Nicole introduces the next song, ‘Green Man’, written, it would seem, by John while in the shower. Earlier in the set, the Green Man, pagan symbol of the merging of humanity with the forces of nature, was mentioned fondly as part
of Cloudstreet’s trip aboard the ‘Violet Sarah’, and Nicole now explains that in her other guise as a clay-working artist, she makes Green Men whenever she can get the firing clay and has even brought some to sell ! Thus having tied up a few loose ends, they launch into the song, which has a
splendid chorus simply begging for harmonies and the Woodman faithful do not disappoint : in many ways it’s the high point of the evening, a super song with a catchy and infectious melody and clearly a testament to the acoustic properties of John’s bathroom ! Cloudstreet then sing us ‘The Fairest
Flower Of Serving Men’, to an original tune by Nicole : she tells us with wry amusement that when learning the words from a songbook, she had overlooked the possibility that there might have been an index at the back and thus missed the tune section at the back of the book altogether ! She
needn’t worry though - it’s a fine melody, another one easily harmonised with (not to mention John’s magnificent and indescribable lute solo !) and is, as it turns out, a powerful finisher for their second set and we applaud thunderously to show our appreciation of their exemplary evening’s entertainment. Oddly enough for the Woodman though, Ian seems to have worked out that it’s ‘only just gone ten past eleven’ - funny how often that happens ! - so there’s plenty of time for Cloudstreet to emerge from their hiding place behind the left speaker and perform a final song for us, the
beautifully sung and nicely allegorical title track from their new CD, ‘Fiddle Ship’, and after a final good clap from us all, the evening’s over and it’s time to buy CDs, buy Katie a Green Man for our garden, and have a post-gig congratulatory chat with John and Nicole before heading home for

The verdict ‘ Go And See Them. If there’s a friendlier, more genuinely likeable Australian couple around, certainly I’d be delighted to talk to them an’ all - Cloudstreet are approachable, witty and intelligent, and both blessed with a self-effacing, cheeky irreverence and a healthy sense of
humour, and every facet of that comes over in their songs, singing and arrangements. ‘Hot Harmonies and Beautiful Ballads’, it says on their website. Can’t argue with that !